Dexter, Season 8, Episode 2, ‘Every Silver Lining’
Written By Manny Coto
Directed By Michael C. Hall
Airs Sundays, 8pm on Showtime
Via an old VCR tape recorded onto a DVD, we see a concerned Harry Morgan in full uniform at an office belonging to a renowned neuropsychiatrist, sharing details that go far deeper than personal. His ten year old adopted son is continuing to show terrifyingly monstrous tendencies, fascination with death and bloodshed, and every attempt he has made to shock him out of his murderous reverie has backfired on him. The shrink in question, as you would expect, is Dr. Evelyn Vogel, who has become Harry’s one and only confidant on the subject of a crisis dominating and destroying his life, and the boy they speak of is Dexter. While Dex and Vogel watch this old video tape, we watch a show taking a hugely risky gambit in its final lap; the retcon.
To the uninitiated, ‘retcon’ is a short hand name for retroactive continuity, when the foundations or history of a story are altered or changed, normally for the sake of a quick fix in the present narrative. Sometimes though, this is used in a less contrived manner, adding depth to a plotline by granting it a larger part in the overall mythos. Whether it’s from lazy or adventurous writing, a retcon should be treated for what it is, namely a last resort, a stick of unstable dynamite. More often than not, it will simply explode in the hand of its user. Sometimes though, it works, when enough care is taken with its handling. The danger in the tactic being used here is very clear; this new character who we have never met was apparently now at the beginning of the show, and played a pivotal part in molding Dexter into the quasi-justice seeking serial killer. It could easily have insulted the intelligence of the viewers, reeked of desperation and worse of all prompted the first cries of ‘Jumping the shark!’ from the cynics in the back row.
Fortunately, it doesn’t, on any of those counts, and within an episode that takes a number of strategic risks, it proves the coup-de-grace, and is a healthy sign that the long term plan is not only a sound one, but is innovative and imaginative, willing to tear up the groundwork left behind by James Manos Jr’s creative team and so something different with the fundamentals of the characters. Like the season opener, ‘Every Silver Lining’ takes a relaxed pace and concentrates its attention on giving each of the plotlines a smooth ride, reminiscent of the show’s first installments. As such, we follow on from the events of ‘A Beautiful Day’ quite stringently, with Deb trying to hunt down the missing jewels left behind after her mark’s death while Dexter balances his dealings with Vogel with the department’s new case. Trouble on both ends; Deb has some competition in tracking down the loot, a state of affairs that push her into some radical and character altering methods, while the brain surgeon killer not only has a second victim to his name, he has also taken an interest in Vogel, prompting her to send in the dogs…by which we mean her protégé, Dex.
A healthy note is that both of these alterations, one within the past and one the present, don’t just work but also make complete sense from a storytelling perspective, opening up doors to rooms we never thought we would enter. Having previously just seemed burned out and unstable, Debra’s bad luck streak has continued and now her psyche seems to be leading into some dark and disturbing places as she despairs at the empty void her existence has become. Her belief that her once dearly beloved brother has caused this vortex of despair and chaos is somewhat validated by the fact that he has played a part in almost every trauma she has endured throughout the story so far, one per season roughly, and now we are beginning to see the true price of his toxicity. While her crime this week may not be too far down the scale, it is sufficiently opposed from her moral compass to draw concern and worry from fans who have already seen her turn from sassy and idealistic new girl to darkly cynical cyclone of proactive retribution and foul language. The next step is true character development, and the most horrible kind. Just like in the last episode, this change allows Jennifer Carpenter to play with the character she has defined so strongly and she is up to the challenge; once engrossing and charming, now she is dangerously hypnotic and forebodingly unpredictable.
The developing storyline for Dexter excluding his dealings with Debra is probably the most interesting since he went toe to toe with Arthur Mitchell, at least in prospect, another glowing testament to the caution to the wind card tossed in by writers needing a new angle on a character we thought we knew in his entirety. They have clearly also learned the basics in regards to the new murderer on the block, one we know nothing about. After losing so much potential suspense in Season Six and Seven by giving away too much too soon, all we know of the bad guy is that he is a psychopath, is smart and likes leaving the fruit of his hunts on the door of a woman who may once have treated him. Most refreshing of all, his identity is not of absolute paramount importance though it is certainly intriguing, assuming the mind numbing obvious plot twist every viewer will have thought of doesn’t prove to be the resolution. More fascinating is the dynamic between Dex and Vogel, one that justifies its impetuousness by offering a glimpse at a different side of the protagonist. Each of the major figures who have guest starred in his life have fit certain roles within his life, albeit briefly and mostly disappointingly; the brother, the lover, the friend, the mentor, the ally…and now, it seems, the mother.
This is the vibe most closely felt within the interactions between the characters, and this possible surrogacy is even mentioned in name by Vogel herself, since she effectively defined him by introducing the code. This would be offensively impertinent did it not make as much sense as it does: Looking back at the flashback scenes in Seasons One and Two, the decisive manner in which Harry sets down the blueprint for Dexter’s survival seems at odds with his nature, particularly when you consider that he is a police detective with little knowledge of psychology, that despite some moral flaws is generally at an ethical center, and that he resorts to suicide after seeing Dexter’s actions in the flesh. In many ways, it makes more sense to think that he actually implementing somebody else’s idea, following it down to the detail and even borrowing some choice phrases. In short, it fits the show’s mythos, validating her role. It also leads to some interesting hints that Dex was never a psychopath in the first place, his need for emotional connection after Harry’s death being the keenest example. If nothing else testifies to this maneuver’s justification, the fact that there is suddenly some new found depth to explore is impossible to ignore.
Considering how pivotal an episode this is, and just how delicate it needs to be in its execution, it is something of a surprise that the star of the show, Michael C. Hall, was given his first shot behind the camera to direct. For what its worth, his work here is excellent, though going any further than that would be wishful overstatement. The episode occasionally lacks imagination in its presentation, relying a little too heavily on basic angles and framing, but the tone is well judged and the mood, crucially, is palpable. The chemistry between he and Charlotte Rampling is also notable, selling their scenes to even the most skeptical of fans. Hall’s greatest achievement is that he is able to bear the two biggest responsibilities the episode has to offer and to pull them off so effectively. The script helps, as Manny Coto’s work is a mixture of sound and superb, never lulling into embarrassment like small segments of ‘A Beautiful Day’ while also providing room for electricity at bigger moments. Some of the material covered is also fantastic in its reasoning, and philosophizing. In particular, Vogel’s assertion that mankind relies on its psychopaths, the ‘alpha wolves’ of a potential civilized society, is suitably ambiguous in its morality but also a valid and intriguing hypothesis, both interesting and insightful in regards the doctor’s thinking. A small subplot involving Batista, Quinn and Jaime is carried off in entertaining and believable style, both funny and involving. Masuka, it should also be noted, is starting to talk like Masuka again.
But the little stuff isn’t really what you take away from ‘Every Silver Lining’, it’s the confidence and assurance that has seen the previously hallowed character of Dexter tampered with for the first time in eons, and the loyalty to natural progression that is pushing Debra from heroine to femme fatale. Without needing to rush or contrive, Season Eight has already covered a lot of lush and fertile ground and is only two episodes in. The signs are good. Who would have thought a retcon would ever be the one to thank for that?